clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Belichick, Tom Brady & Jimmy G

New, comments

Six choice nuggets from ESPN’s blockbuster story

2016 New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

You must have heard about Seth Wickersham’s latest feature story for ESPN, detailing how the New England Patriots Holy Trinity — owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick, and quarterback Tom Brady — is starting to fall apart.

Everyone has an choice opinion. Twitter is full of OMG! takes, but a minority of too-cool dudes are saying, “Meh. No big news. Guys with big egos argue with each other. Whatever.”

It’s true that there is no giant headline scoop here. But there are tons of smaller revelations, and many of them involve the San Francisco 49ers, especially Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan. In fact, the decision to trade Garoppolo is one of two conflicts that the epic feature is built around. (The other is the conflict between Belichick and Tom Brady’s guru/trainer, Alex Guerrero.)

You should read this whole article, as soon as you have a good 20 minutes to spare. We’ve discussed some notable aspects of it related to the 49ers, but I thought I’d break down my six favorite nuggets that this story reveals.

1. Kyle Shanahan met with Belichick after Super Bowl 51, to find out what he did wrong.

At the combine this past February, Kyle, weeks into the 49ers job after being the offensive coordinator for the Falcons, met with Belichick for hours to learn from his team’s humiliating Super Bowl loss.

This is encouraging in so many ways. Obviously, as a 49er fan, it’s great to see your new coach humble enough to ask the legendary coach who just beat him in the biggest game for insights. But for any sports fan, it’s awesome that two coaches at the top of their game let their love of football overcome competitive rivalry.

Author Seth Wickersham said a bit more on the subject in a KNBR interview on Friday.

2. Belichick chose the 49ers for the Garoppolo trade largely because of his bond with Shanahan.

That last nugget was brought up as one of the reasons Belichick called the Niners, and not other teams. He also thought Shanny would do well for Garoppolo, who he obviously liked. All of that was predictable, but I did not see this connection coming:

Belichick had long admired Kyle’s father, Mike, who not only had been one of the NFL’s smartest tacticians but had also personally defended Belichick to commissioner Roger Goodell during the Spygate scandal.

You know when your mom says, “Be nice to everyone, because you never know when you’ll need their help”? She’s right.

3. Robert Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo, against the coach’s will.

The story talks about a key meeting the owner had with his famous coach.

The meeting ended with a clear mandate to Belichick: trade Garoppolo because he would not be in the team’s long-term plans, and then, once again, find the best quarterback in the draft and develop him. Belichick was furious and demoralized, according to friends. But in the end, he did what he asks of his players and coaches: He did his job.

This had been rumored but not reported, i.e. confirmed by credible evidence. The story doesn’t quite say Tom Brady pushed the owner to order the trade, but it certainly hints at that.

Several times this past October, Brady met with Kraft to discuss playing longer. That same month, he also met with Belichick, who was skeptical of a long-term contract extension but was content to start Brady as long as he was the best quarterback. Belichick understood how much Brady had meant to the franchise, and had always insisted privately that he wouldn’t move on from Brady unless he could convince the coaching staff of it. But the reality was that no quarterback has ever played at a championship level into his 40s. The meeting ended in a “little blowup,” according to a source.

Then came Kraft’s order to Belichick. I guess it could be coincidence?

4. Belichick might be on his way out of New England.

The point is made indirectly but in several ways. Wickersham says straight out that Belichick had intended the transition to Garoppolo to be part of his legacy, one of the things he was staying to accomplish.

Once ordered to trade him, the article suggests, Belichick may have given Garoppolo away to a favored young coach at a low price out of spite. (On the other hand, Garoppolo had only 8 more games under contract before becoming a free agent and had to learn a new team’s system, which naturally drove the price down.

The article goes on, though, to point out how Belichick is showing an atypically sentimental side that suggests knowing he’s on his way out. For example:

  • the trade doesn’t fit Belichick’s historical pattern of hard bargaining

And why did Belichick practically give away a quarterback whom the coaches saw as a potential top-10 player for much less than he could have gotten last spring? It made no sense. ...

  • Kraft apparently crossed a line with his order to trade Garoppolo.

Belichick, having always subscribed to the philosophy that it’s time to go once an owner gets involved in football decisions, left the impression with some friends that the current dynamic was unsustainable. ...

  • Belichick is suddenly being nice and generous.

He’s preparing assistant coaches for job interviews elsewhere, which he didn’t always do in years past. He has taken pride in Garoppolo’s 5-0 record in San Francisco -- and in the fact that Kraft has confessed to people in the building that trading Garoppolo might have been a mistake.

The idea that Belichick might leave New England has been independently reported since this ESPN article came out, such as this story in the New York Daily News:

Maybe Belichick decides not to take another full time coaching job, but hangs out with one of his favorite young coaches, and gives him advice on how to develop the young quarterback that got away from him? That would be cool.

5. Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo share an agent (Don Yee).

That’s not necessarily unethical, even for two guys competing for the same position on the same team. But it might explain this proposal:

Brady’s two-year contract, with a $28 million signing bonus, was designed to set up 2018 as a key year, when the team could, in theory, look at a 41-year-old Brady and his $22 million cap hit and decide if it made sense to transition to Garoppolo.

6. Guerrero’s clinic, TB12, froze Garoppolo out after he made an appointment.

The second major conflict was over Brady’s controversial and divisive trainer, Alex Guerrero and his TB12 clinic. (Despite what it sounds like, it is not named for a particularly dangerous strain of tuberculosis.)

The article reports that all the players on the team felt significant pressure from Brady to use his guy’s clinic instead of the Patriot’s own trainers, and that led to a major beef with Belichick.

So Jimmy G, trying to do the right thing, made an appointment with TB12 after his injury. Guess what happened?

... when he arrived, the door was locked. He knocked; nobody was there. He called TB12 trainers but nobody answered. He couldn’t believe it, Garoppolo told the staffers, and that night ended up visiting team trainers instead. Guerrero vehemently denies ever refusing to see any player, and Garoppolo was eventually treated at TB12 -- but it was two weeks after he showed up for his original appointment, and only after a high-ranking Patriots staffer called TB12 to inquire why Garoppolo hadn’t been admitted.

Again, no direct statement is made, but the story clearly suggests that Tom Brady’s antagonism toward his younger rival was the driving force behind this snub. I guess Garoppolo’s agent wasn’t going to do much to iron this one out.

There’s plenty more, but it all worth a read. The NFL and its teams are run by a surprising small group of generally colorful personalities, and how they get along drives the success of failure of teams a lot more than most fans realize.

The surprising thing here is that the collapse of the league’s mightiest team broke in several ways that all help the Niners, mostly through random luck.